short answer Sunday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s once again short answer Sunday. Here we go…

Verifying salary history

Have you ever heard of a company trying to confirm current salary after offering somebody a job?  I applied for something online in an electronic application, did not have exact current salary info at the time (honestly don’t keep exact track after all these years, and always round up a little to keep from getting low-balled) so roundup from the ballpark where I knew I was.  They offered the job, I accepted, now the background check agency is asking for pay stub to confirm current salary. My roundup was not that far off – $3000 higher than actual on an almost $100K salary and my new salary is only about an 8% increase – but it’s freaking me out that they might consider this falsification of information.  They also asked for old W2s and if they’re trying to confirm old salaries those are almost definitely off as I totally estimated. Who remembers what they made 4 jobs ago?  If I’d known companies checked this kind of thing I would have kept exact info handy.  Thoughts?

Yes, this isn’t uncommon. They confirm the salary history you gave them, because since they’re (stupidly) basing their salary offer on what you’ve been paid previously, they want to make sure that info was accurate. If you were slightly off because you’d remembered wrong, I’d just include a note explaining that. But you’re saying that you intentionally rounded up — i.e., lied — which, you know, isn’t a great idea.

Second interviews

I’ve been reading your blog for about a year now and your advice has paid off- I followed your recommendations for resumes, cover letters, phone interviews, and in-person interviews when I applied for a position with a company I’ve been tracking for about a year.  They just contacted me and asked to come back in for a second interview in which I would take a 5-part test of general knowledge, talk to 2 more managers from the various divisions, and meet with a couple people already working the position I’ve applied for. My question is, should I prepare for this second interview differently than the first?  I’ll be talking to two more people that I haven’t met, so should I use the answers I’d prepared and practiced in advance for the standard interview questions, or create new answers in case they’ve already reviewed the notes from the first set of people?  Also, are second interviews a good sign or does it show that the company is unsure about hiring me?

Prepare for the second interview the same as you did for the first, but this time incorporate the info that you got in the first round (including reflecting on the types of things they were asking you and what conclusions you can draw from that). Second interviews are indeed a good sign — it indicates that you’re still a viable candidate and that this is a company that doesn’t hire people on a whim.

Is this a good sign?

My wife recently went up for a job. She has gotten good feedback, but nothing like a wink or a nudge that says it’s in the bag. She interviewed, and was given a test project to design for them. She did that and after about a week and a half, they said they want her to come back in and “meet the staff individually.” Is this a good sign? How good? Should she expect a job offer at this point?  Any help would be greatly appreciated as we’re both highly anticipating news about this job.

Yes, it’s a good sign. No, you should never expect a job offer until you have one in hand. But companies don’t generally waste their time on this kind of thing if they’re not seriously interested. (Of course, they can be seriously interested in two people and have only one slot, so, again, never count on an offer.)

What color to wear to an interview

This may seem a silly question, but is there a best attire/color to wear for interviews?  Do black and white suits make you forgettable?  Should I purchase something more summery yet professional?  (I’m not talking about getting a yellow sundress here, of course.)

Color doesn’t matter, as long as you look professional and pulled together.

Providing birth date for employee ID

My employer sent out a notice asking us to provide our names, work ID numbers, title and dates of birth to be used on our new work credentials that would be used to identify ourselves when we deal with members of the  public.  I strongly objected to making my date of birth available due to concerns about ID theft and invasions of privacy.  If someone has your name and DOB they can get a whole lot more from the Internet.  I provided everything requested but my date of birth.  They told me not to worry about it because they went into my personnel file and obtained my date of birth from there!!!  I am really upset about this.  Is there anything I can do?

Um, talk to them and explain your concerns?

Not disclosing a company I was fired from

I recently was fired after working for a trucking company less than a month.I have been leaving them off applications. Is there anyway they can find out about my last company if I don’t disclose I even worked there?

Technically it’s possible, depending on what kind of background check they do. In practice, though, it’s pretty unlikely that they will. I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

Average rating in performance review

During a recent performance review, my manager rated me as an average performer. I had provided examples where I had implemented new processes which improved efficiency and special assignments completed at the request of my manager. My manager’s reaction was that my efforts were not overlooked. I’m not sure what this means.  My company is in growth stage so I know it is interested in talent retention. If the company is growing and trying to motivate good employees, then wouldn’t a mediocre performance review mean that the business perceives me as not very valuable or lacking in potential?

It sounds like your manager is saying that she did indeed take note of those efforts, but that overall, even factoring that in, your performance was still average. Which is certainly possible. I’d tell your manager that you’re interested in pushing yourself and that you’d like her advice on what you’d need to do to get a stronger evaluation in the future.

{ 49 comments… read them below }

  1. Quix*

    Regarding the “average rating,” I’ve worked for a major company where average (or a 3 on a scale of 1-5) was explicitly if unwrittenly defined to mean “completely meeting all expectations” and a 4-5 meant that you either moved heaven and earth for the company or (more likely) schmoozed with your supervisor after hours.

    If that company is anything similar, average is what you’re likely to get until you figure out how to play the review game.

    Or the person could just be average. That’s possible too.

    1. Sarah*

      I’ve also worked for a company like that but I know for a fact their low balling the performance rating was because of money. The higher your rating the higher your raise and if you were already making in the salary range they deemed acceptable within your region they would pull anything to keep your salary acceptable enough to keep you an no higher.

    2. Kimberlee*

      At the only performance review I’ve ever had in my life, at a fast food place, there were a few places where I was noted as “average” (all the rest were exceptional marks). The thing was, in those specific areas, I knew for a fact that I was exceptional. Not merely meeting the obligations of my job, but going above and beyond. I asked my boss, and she told me she had to knock points off so that I would have “room to grow.” I definitely had room to grow in other areas… not sure what the point was with that one.

      1. Esra*

        I loathe the “room to grow” reason for knocking off points. My motivation to excel is enhanced by appreciation for my work, not falsely devaluing it.

      2. Vicki*

        I had a manager who once lied on my performance review. When I questioned him, he said ‘I needed to add something that “needs improvement”.’

    3. jennie*

      There are lots of ways companies make performance appraisals unfair, but being marked average is not necessarily a flaw in the process. MOST people are average by definition, but no one wants to think of themselves that way (it’s called illusory superiority).

      In my company it is expected that 80% of employees will have average performance, 10% will be above average and 10% will be below. If you sustain above average performance you should be promoted or rewarded in some other way, and if you sustain below average performance you should be terminated or disciplined in some other way.

  2. Sarah*

    Salary history – I personally wouldn’t worry about the salary history. I recently had a background check and received a job that I am making $20,000 less in… after knowing my previous salary they still offered me the job.

    As for you “rounding up” on you salary. I seriously wouldn’t sweat it and I definitely wouldn’t point it out! If they do ask I would just tell them the extra 3 grand is from a bonus….or just say you couldn’t remember exactly.

    1. Dawn*

      My thought is that a bonus would have been included on the W2 as part of the income total. Unless OP says it was cash under the table or something, I don’t see any way around this other than to say theW2s were “in storage” so OP had to guess his/her income for that particular job.

      1. anon*

        I agree. confessing that you didn’t think it was critical to have perfectly accurate numbers so you provided a ballpark figure.

  3. Doug Stowell*

    These days, getting fired from a previous job is not a big deal. The past few years has unsettled many industries. Note that most major companies do employ agencies to perform background checks. One of the biggest issues, I have seen is people embellishing their education at the interview or on resume – this is dangerous.


    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You’re talking about being laid off — having your position eliminated. But the OP was fired — terminated because of performance.

      1. Vicki*

        Maybe, maybe not. I was let go, along with about 30 other people, over a month. We were not “Laid Off” because, apparently, that has a legal meaning. We didn’t voluntarily quit. So, essentialy, we were all fired — without cause — because this is an At-will employment state and the company was cutting employees for reasons never explained fully.

        1. Joey*

          It’s easy to find out. Just call them from another number and pretend you’re an employer that wants to verify previous employment.

  4. Dawn*

    RE: Providing birth date for employee ID

    Is this OP serious? This letter has to be a joke. She should have thought of her identity theft concerns before she took the job, although I don’t see a way around that as DOB was a requirement at every employer I’ve ever worked for.

    This reminds me of an ex-employee who was trying to buy a house. She was “highly offended” that she was asked for her social security number and bank account information. Um, how do you expect to get a mortgage without giving that information??

    1. Jennifer*

      I’m not sure I understand your point, Dawn. It’s one thing to give your birthdate to your employer (to be kept in your confidential file). It’s also normal (required) to give your SSN/bank info when applying for a mortgage. But I don’t see what that has to do with the OP’s question.

      As far as I’m concerned, it’s another thing completely to have to give your birthdate to members of the public. The company will already be including the OP’s name, title and work ID number in this identification. If their system can’t identify individual employees with this information alone (thereby keeping the OPs personal information private), they need to rethink how they assign work ID numbers.

      I work with the public and would definitely object to having to reveal my birthdate to every member of the public who asks for it.

      1. Dawn*

        I misread the post. I thought the OP meant she didn’t want the employer, not the public, to have her DOB.

        1. Anon*

          At my last place of employment we had name badges with both the first and last name so the customers could identify us on the sales floor. We had to completely re-do all of the name badges because we had an instance where some creepy person looked up the employee’s information online after seeing their name badge and began stocking them at their home. Business cards stil had both names on it though…

  5. Anonymous*

    I was also fired from a job after a month. It’s not on my resume and I never ever put it on an application. So far, I haven’t been asked about it.

  6. Liz T*

    I also knew a supervisor who gave low performances ratings to stellar employees just to make himself look good–as though he were miraculously pulling together a team of morons.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Which is hilarious, because it would of course reflect poorly on him if he had a team of low-performers and wasn’t aggressively moving to either bring them up to a higher bar or replace them with high-performers.

  7. Anonymous*

    As for not putting something you were fired from on your resume, how will you explain the gap in time during that job? All I’m going to say is I know somebody who did that and got caught when they were asked about the time gap and didn’t have a good explanation. I would think it would be safer to put it on there and explain it if asked as “not working out”.

    1. Henning Makholm*

      In this case we’re told in the question that the job lasted less than a month. That will not cause a gap worth asking about; it will just look as if the candidate’s job search lasted a little longer.

  8. Anonymous*

    Average Performance Review – I can pretty much tell you what is going on here. Most companies require that the performance review ratings of any individual manager fall into a normal bell curve distribution. So, if ratings possible are 1 to 5, you can have a few 1’s and a few 5’s, but most of the group should fall in the 2 to 4 range. I even worked for one company that had a 10-80-10 rule – so 10% in each of the high and low brackets and 80% in the middle – and if your group didn’t fit that you had to change it. So I would guess somebody else in your group already took the top rating and you got bumped lower.

    1. CK*

      A large company I used to work at did the same thing – very specific percentages for each ratings category, even down to the department level (ie. Department A, with 10 employees, can only have 1 above average; the bulk fall into average, etc).

  9. Anonymous*

    What color you wear to an interview does matter. And it’s even a bigger deal is certain industries. For example in banking you probably would want to stick to blues, greys and other dark colored suits. Same goes for other industries just not as extreme.

    1. Mikey*

      I agree! To an extent it doesn’t matter, but the general rule of dressing like you belong but one notch better applies. So, in my area of IT, where khakis still rule the day, we still remember the woman who wore a hot pink skirt suit to the interview. It was a great suit, but it was just…inappropriate. Pinkie didn’t get the job.

      1. Anonymous*

        exactly. or if you’re applying for a job in fashion and design, PR, Marketing, something similar…you probably don’t want to show up in a drab grey suit with a white shirt…

  10. Linda*

    Salary history- I had that happen and the offer was restracted, the woman was very mad. She said something along the lines of “and here I gave you an extra $1 an hour and you lied”Oh well.

    As for the suits. In the summer I usually wear something in the beige/summer catagory, but pulled together. In winter I wear navy. I find you do stand out more than the other 300 people who wear the same old black…

    1. Jamie*

      Unless you’re a red-head. Then it doesn’t matter what you wear (as long as it’s conservative) you’ll never be “the girl in the black suit with the plum suede pumps” – you’ll always be “the red head.”

      It doesn’t matter if you’re four years old or in your (ahem) early forties – it’s the main identifier.

  11. Jamie*

    Regarding the salary issue – the wording where estimating and deliberately rounding up as a strategy is pretty telling.

    If you lie and round up because you feel it’s a strategic way of getting a better offer than you are rolling the dice that they won’t find out and pull the offer – which they have every right to do.

    also, “Who remembers what they made 4 jobs ago?”

    I can tell you to the dollar the starting and ending salary of every job I’ve ever had and how many months between raises. Also bonuses (if any) for each year since I started working.

    I think most people keep this knowledge as salary is a pretty big deal. Maybe that’s just me?

    1. Jamie*

      “Regarding the salary issue – the wording where estimating and deliberately rounding up as a strategy are used interchangeably is pretty telling. ”

      I REALLY need an edit button!

      1. NicoleW*

        I can honestly say I don’t remember the exact salaries I made 2+ positions ago. They were all non-round numbers and extremely small! I remember within $1-2k of the actual salary. After 4 years and 2 promotions, I was only making $3500 more per year than I started at. With a range that small, each increase was, like, $812.
        But I agree there is a difference from estimating due to poor memory and intentionally rounding up.
        OP – You rounded 3-4% – not a huge deal. But since it’s your most recent salary, I don’t think you can plausibly say you didn’t remember.

    2. anon*

      I guess I’m an exception to the rule. I only remember ballpark slary numbers. However, if I needed exact figures, I’m sure I could dig up W2s.

    3. Anonymous*

      I think those of us who worked low-wage hourly jobs can’t remember “exactly” what we made. I could tell you within a dollar or two, but not exactly. And I can’t tell you how much of a raise I got when.

    4. fposte*

      Honestly, I’m not exactly sure what I make *now*. I know the net, but the gross doesn’t come up that much.

  12. Long Time Admin*

    About performance reviews –
    I’ve only had one bad review in my career. I was new on this particular job, and in this division, but I had been working for the company for 20 years. When my manager and I met, he verbally gave me a great review, but on paper he tore me to shreds. I was so surprised, I couldn’t even talk. When I got out of there, I was in tear. A friend saw me and asked what happened, so I told him. He told me that this manager was notorious for giving his people terrible reviews. He told me to keep my ears open, and I’d be hearing a lot of shouting during the rest of the performance meetings. Almost everyone who met with him (more than 20 people) ended up yelling and arguing. I’d NEVER heard anyone shout at work before, but it made me feel better. What a jerk! From then on, whenever he’d piss me off, I’d mail out resumes (those were the days!). The happiest day of my working life was when I got a much better job at another company, and I could give my notice.

    1. anon-2*

      I once had a bad performance review after three years of “meets high” and “exceeds expectations”. It read “meets expectations” and profusely “bad attitude”.

      I refused to sign it. I gave the manager, and his boss, an opportunity to back away from it. I replied, “If I have to deal with this , I will have to respond to it. I don’t want to have to do that. It won’t benefit any of us.” There was an incident that my manager and director handled incorrectly – long story short – so I had a Sword of Damocles over their heads.

      Basically it was — “you can take me down the drain, you’re comin’ down with me.”

      Long story short, human resources intervened. The review was expunged.

      1. Joey*

        You’re only labeling yourself as a troublemaker if you refuse to sign an evaluation i dont care if it was eventually expunged. It’s not a contract or anything its usually to indicate you received it, not that you agree with it. It’s much better to voice your disagreement and present any facts that were misrepresented or omitted.

        1. anon-2*

          In this particular instance, it would NOT have been good to sign off on it and respond. It would have ESCALATED a bad situation which, I wanted to not revisit.

          There was an incident where my management pulled “a nasty” on me — and realized they erred on that day. Rather than bring it up and out in the open, I wanted to go forward, as did the director. If I had stated what was done to me, it would have —

          a) not improved my situation any, but my manager and director would have had their careers at that company harmed

          b) HR would have likely “defended” the actions of my superiors publicly, but as I said — it would have served NO ONE any good — including the company.

          That’s why, I did things the way I did. I’m a troublemaker? No – I was trying to AVOID trouble.

          Managers are not infallible. They can sometimes be forgiven stupid mistakes. That’s the path I chose, but I wasn’t going to fall down on my sword to protect them, either. I gave them a chance to back away from something they did — and they took that option and things were settled.

  13. Anonymous*

    IMHO, the W2 doesn’t really cut it when it comes time to proving an income. The W2 shows taxable income, not earned income. My taxable income is my earned income (inclusive of bonuses) minus my 401k contribution, my medical and dental premiums, as well as any other non-taxable deductions. For me, my W2 shows a good $7300 less than what I “truly” earned.

    I’m also curious how I’m going to handle the earnings question when I apply for my next job. My current job is exempt, but pays us by the hour. I have an hourly rate, but I’m not apt to disclose it. I’m more likely to put down my total earnings for the year, which generally will be 5-10% higher than my “salary.” (My “salary” would be my hourly rate extrapolated across a standard 40-hour work week.)

    I don’t know what my current HR will or will not verify during a background check, but if they disclose the “salary” and I get “caught,” (I use quotes because I made no untrue statement, just framed an answer in a light most beneficial to me) I will flat out tell the HR person that I was worth it to them at the agreed upon rate, and if they are inclined to adjust the offer as a result, that they can take the offer and shove it because I have no desire to work for a company who low balls its employees. (That does assume that I’m still in my current job, and have the ability to be picky.)

    1. EG*

      While your federal taxable income may be $7300 less, your Medicare wages box on the W2 should reflect what you actually earned (in most cases)

    1. Anonymous*

      No joke. I work for a government contractor. It’s standard practice in this business to “charge” your time to various projects. In a sense, it’s a grown up’s version of punching a time clock. I’m required to charge 40 hours each week, and whatever doesn’t get charged directly to clients must get charged to my sick or vacation time. But, here’s the rub: if I work more than 40 hours in a week, I get paid my base hourly rate (no time and a half as it is for non-exempt employees) for each and every minute beyond those 40. That is, a 50 hour work week results in a 25% increase in my paycheck.

  14. Wilton Businessman*

    Simple, say you’re expecting a counter offer in that range and if you want me to come work there you better impress me.

  15. anon-2*

    It’s a reality that a new employer will try to keep the payroll down by asking you to use your current salary as a base.

    HOWEVER — you should state your expectations based on your capabilities and performance, and NOT based on what you’re making today.

    Whenever I interviewed with a company, I would state my expectations and I would refuse to list my current salary. If it’s truly a professional environment, the negotiation should be based on expectations, and not what it will take to get you out of your current position.

    If I were asked to produce pay stubs, I’d walk out. To me, that would be irrelevant and I’d see more red lights than on a string of ambulances. I wouldn’t want to work in a place like that. Think of how they’ll treat you at salary review time.

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